Thursday, March 5, 2009


Dear Query Shark:

A dash of snark meets dark in UNLEASHING YOUR INNER SEX DEMON, my 90,000 word humorous paranormal romance.

I'm not sure this query will survive my spam filters. If you're querying via email you MUST put QUERY in the subject line so that if "inner sex demon" triggers the filters, the agent will recognize it's a query when she goes slogging through the spam.

Beautician Lucia Gregory has a problem, but this time it's not bunion ridden pedicures or a perm gone horribly wrong. This time it's much more serious. Who would have thought opening a simple chest could unleash the bowels of hell? Then again, when the chest is clearly labeled Arca de Inferni (Chest of the Damned) she really should have known better. Overnight, she turns into a sexpot. Men who would never give her the time of day, including her gay coworkers, throw themselves at her feet. Then she meets Rafael, a darkly sexy man claiming to be a demon. He isn't like other men, that¹s for sure. Instead of groveling at her feet like the others, he remains distant and aloof. When he tells her she's a sex-demon, she doesn't know whether to laugh hysterically or be horribly mortified.

Opening a chest/unleash the bowels of hell? Um. Demon diarrhea? This may not be the visual you want. I don't think you need to be quite so specific. Maybe it's just me but I have a visual of cardiac surgery and colostomy bags here, and believe me, that's NOT what you want.

Oh wait. It's not a thoracic chest. It's a portmanteau chest. Got it. Took me three reads to get that. Again, that's not what you want.

She can open a cask, a barrel, a vault, a jewelbox or a box of caramel corn if you want, but you need a word that doesn't evoke chest meaning body part. I think the reason I was confused was because of the body imagery before that. (toes, hair etc)

Rafael Deleon, a Guardian Demon, is hell-bent on retrieving the Arca de Inferni. If it ends up in the wrong person's possession, they will have the power to take over the world. When he tracks the chest to a suburban hair studio, he can't believe what else he finds--a beautiful succubus who has no idea of the power she possesses. As a demon, he should be able to resist her charms. But the closer she gets to him, the more attracted to her he becomes.

However, the leader of the Infernati, an evil sect of demons, has his own plans. He needs the chest and Lucy so he can finally control Earth. Rafe is determined to protect Lucy, who'd rather go out with guns blazing. Sparks fly as both are unable to fight their growing attraction. Who would've known saving the world could be so much fun?

UNLEASHING YOUR INNER SEX DEMON has been named a finalist in several RWA sponsored contests. I am a member of Romance Writers of America, Mid Michigan Romance Writers and several special interest chapters. I am also involved in a critique group where I have the opportunity to work with several published authors. (that's nice but irrelevant)

If you are interested, I will gladly send you either the first three chapters or the complete manuscript. I appreciate your time and consideration.


If I was looking for paranormal romance, I'd probably read pages here despite the flaws. A query letter doesn't have to be perfect (this one isn't) but it does have to have verve and voice. This one does.


Hillsy said...

Before anything else I'm not slagging or slating, it seems like a intriguing, exciting novel (if not my cup of tea) and I can see why the shark was sharpening her teeth to want a second bite so well done and all the best pinging the query to all the agents under the sun. Fingers crossed....


Having read through all the queries that get positive hits from the shark (and all those that don't as well), the question of voice grows more enigmatic - Is it only witty, off kilter, sarcactic tone that constitues a good voice?

I say this because finding another example, especially one in my genre, seems a bit elusive. Skimming back through the posts the only one I can find where specific mention of voice is made in a query that is not at least partially humorous in tone is #75 - 'Winning the war at home' (which couldn't be further from the voice I want).

So here's the problem - I write epic sf or fantasy (I know it's going to be a bitch to sell but all I can do is revise and write a damn good query letter) so does that mean my QL is forever going to miss out on the "well I liked the voice even if..." way to get agents to scan sample pages?

OK that's a little pessemistic, but the question still stands - are QL's for humorous and quirky MS' far more likely to attract interest for "voice" by virtue of the fact it's inherent to the genre??

On a side note my word verification was 'pousfult' which sounds like one of the names in T.S.Elliots book of practical cats...=0)

Alissa Grosso said...

Agree about the chest line, and I think it might have had something to do with the earlier bunions reference, but I was thinking of human chest, possibly even a reference to cleavage. Perhaps cut this down and simply use the proper latin name with or without translation. I don't think all the nitty gritty details are important.

Anonymous said...

Janet and everyone,

Thanks for the feedback. I can definitely see the issue with the body part references. I am ready to crack my fingers and tighten it up.

Thanks again!

Sarah Laurenson said...

The voice here is great, but now I'm thinking hard about Andrew's comment. Is it only in the funnier queries that the voice stands out? I'm going to say No. But I think there is an advantage that funny and edgy voices have over the rest of the pack. And books that involve a lot of world building have a disadvantage in finding a way to explain what's happening with limited world building in the query.

Good luck, author. This sounds like a blast.

Joshua McCune said...

Nice query - not up my alley, but sounds fun (and I didn't imagine a thoracic chest, though another more exotic word might be more emotive).

Andrew, I'd say for epic/high fantasy or SF, voice isn't as important to convey in your query letter - plot, consistency, quality & uniqueness -- if you're writing a more personal story, voice would probably be higher up the ladder.

And, yes, I think it's easier to create voice for snarky and/or memoir type fictions and these will attract more attention from some agents.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

Okay, I didn;t go to the thoracic place until I was dragged there kicking and screaming. I didn't see the diction as a problem.

The title was my stumbling block. I saw it and thought "this sounds like a query for a goth sex-help book." Not sure if that's what the author was hoping for.

Jessica Brockmole said...

Andrew asks a question that I've long been wondering. I understand, Shark, that you work with what you're sent, but I'd love to see more examples of query letters deemed to have excellent voice which aren't necessarily humorous. The voice is so accessible in a brief, humorous query that I'm really second-guessing the efficiency of the voice in my literary query.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the judgment call here. It's only 370-odd words, but it takes up all of a single page... and does it with big chunky paragraphs. It would certainly be 1+ pages with typical letter accoutrement. I could hardly stand to get through this one, but it gets a "call back." Query Shark again affirms my belief that agents think they know what they want, report that they want something different, and respond positively to something altogether separate from that.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the judgment call here. It's only 370-odd words, but it takes up all of a single page... and does it with big chunky paragraphs. It would certainly be 1+ pages with typical letter accoutrement. I could hardly stand to get through this one, but it gets a "call back." Query Shark again affirms my belief that agents think they know what they want, report that they want something different, and respond positively to something altogether separate from that.

Merry Monteleone said...


I'm not a big romance reader, but I really like the idea of this one and I think the title's great.

The biggest problem for me was not the chest, though after Janet mentioned it I could see where she was coming from... it was the 'taking over the world' thing... too cliche, and I think if you reword, it might be better...

Good luck with it!

VinceInAZ said...

Kee-rist! Open a box, become a demon?? How powerless the main character is! Yet, also powerful enough to rule the world? Oh, right. She's a woman, both powerless and ultimately powerful. The ultimate victim. Women can't help it, can they? La la, I'm a ditzy demoness! La la, now I'm the supreme empress of the world! I'm a little tired of the "women are all victims, and therefore noble" flavor of literature. Women have strength and power over their lives if they choose to have it, if they have the courage to take it. How tragic a message this would be for all women if it were published. What's the moral? Don't open boxes with untranslated Italian warnings? "Arca di Inferno" doesn't cut it. Should say, "Il pericolo! Non si apra. Diventerete un demone." That, I could buy.

none said...

Eh, it's not as bad as Twilight.

The big unanswered question for me was, what's keeping the lovers apart? There doesn't seem to be any reason for them to fight their attraction rather than get it on.

? said...

In response to the posts about the voice in the query letter-every agent has his/her preference and it's no secret that Janet Reid gets a kick out of the snappy/sarcastic voice. After all, her writing style is certainly snappy and sarcastic.

Nathan Bransford, on the other hand, easily prefers a more literary voice/style in the books he looks for.

What does it mean? They both probably would have turned down Dan Brown and John Grisham.

No knock on either agent, but just a reminder that all agents have their preference, and not to take everything said by every agent as gospel.

I have read terrific advice from both Janet Reid and Nate Bransford, but I also know that when the time comes to shop around my novel, these two may not necessarily be the best agent for me. But I'll still give them a shot ;)

? said...

Just to add to my above post-rumors have gone around that John Grisham submitted an anonymous entry to one of Nate Bransford's writing competitions and was thoroughly ignored. If it's true, it tells you that different agents are looking for different kinds of voices, and the query letters that stands out to Janet Reid isn't going to stand out to every agent.

talpianna said...

"Unique voices" other than snarky or witty ones can be off-putting. Look at how many people don't like Tolkien or E.R. Eddison because of the voice.

WV: opock--kapock's evil twin

talpianna said...

Tally, there is something known in SF fandom as the "Sidney Glickstein test"--viz. and namely, if a book had been submitted by an unknown author called Sidney Glickstein, instead of a famous one, would it have been published? The issue was raised when Heinlein's I Will Fear No Evil came out.

In fact, the cousins who wrote as "Ellery Queen" wrote another series as "Barnaby Ross" just to test whether their reviews were based on name only. In this case, the books, featuing as detective a deaf ex-actor named Drury Lane, were well reviewed.

WV--pinho: a college girl who sleeps with lots of frat guys

Anonymous said...

I didn't have any problems with the word 'chest'. I imagined a wooden chest like the kind used by pirates to store treasure.

I've been wondering about "voice" as well. It's so essential and yet really undefinable. Agents always mention voice, and I never really know what they mean. But it does seem that wit is generally what is associated with a good voice. And I guess some novels just don't lend themselves to wit.

I think an alternative to wit can be a compelling description of the plot, or protagonist.

WV: Carazy- really reaaly crazy.

Teagen said...

I agree that the comment on the 'chest' was confusing. And unless she knows Latin and is familiar with those Latin words, she probably wouldn't be expected to know that's what it translates to.

I'm also confused about Rafael's attraction. At first you say her demon powers don't work on him, and further down you say they do. So I'm not really sure which it is.

Also, I'm not sure where the bowels of hell come in. You've got one demon trying to keep her safe and save the world, you have another trying to take over the world, and then you have her turned into a demon. That doesn't seem like a whole lot. Are there a ton more demons that come into play? If not, and it's really just the three, maybe two or three others minor characters, that, to me, doesn't constitute the worst of hell. The worst would be swarms of demons which would complicate keeping her and the chest safe. But those are just my thoughts.

I do like the title. It's very catchy.

Teagen said...

Oops, I said Latin in my comments. It's Italian. My bad.
But other than the language issue there, I still keep my comment. It's good for the reader to know, but it shouldn't be assumed Lucy would know or even bother to look it up.

Kitty said...

I kept hearing that golden oldie Love Potion #9 playing in my head as I read this query.

I took my troubles down to Madame Rue
You know that gypsy with the gold-capped tooth
She's got a pad down on Thirty-Fourth and Vine
Sellin' little bottles of Love Potion Number Nine


Woody said...

Aye. The voice thingy. What's more of a problem methinks is the deitification of agents, editors and other literary "pros" by writers. They are just humans you know. And humans have preferences and are subject to moods. I figure if I'm an agent and a demonic romance query crosses my desk the day after I was dumped by my succubus of 4 years, it's slush-pile city straight away.
Totally off the subject: What's worse than a form rejection letter? A rejection letter that states: "Although I found your idea intriguing..." or "Your story shows promise, but..." or my personal favorite: "Your writing and/or language is very distinctive, however..." Aargh. Are these kinds of responses supposed to make me feel better? What they do make me feel like is that Agent X really didn't like it all that much or he/she would have requested a mss., no? I suppose there is that lot who would say, "Oh, you should be thankful that you are getting those kinds of responses, it means you're on your way." On my way to what? Rewriting my query letter? Revamping my entire novel because I'm afraid that while it's "good" it's just not "good enough"? Oy.
Sadly enough, they were right (you know, THEM)it IS who you know and not what. I mean, you can't very well submit a query of garbled vomit and expect to get representation just because you played golf once with the agent's brother, but let's face it, while there are great novels(and non-fic.)out there, there is also a ton of plain crap(there's that humans with preferences thing again)and I have to believe the only way some of it got published was personal connections with agents and publishing houses; either that or the agent queried won the Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes the night before
Thanks for reading my rant!

bryce k raffle said...


if you read the query more carefully, you'd see that she never said anywhere that Lucy's demon powers didn't work on Rafael. She merely said that he wasn't like other guys and that he remained distant and aloof. This doesn't indicate (to me anyway) that he isn't attracted to her. Later on, she clarifies that he is attracted to her (still trying to remain aloof though, which becomes harder the more he stays near her). I am confused though about why he tries to remain aloof when they could just be shagging each other silly.

as for the swarms of demons that are lacking, she mentions a leader of an evil clan/sect of demons. I'm assuming this is where the swarms come in.

I do like the title, the concept. Sounds funny. I'm not into romance, but I'd still read this. good luck to the author.

Stephanie Barr said...

There's a lot of discussion here on voice and, though not an agent or published, I have an idea on that.

I think they're looking for a sense of style that give them (a) a sense of the book and (b) that professionally has promise.

Humor has promise and, when someone makes you laugh, you want them to succeed. But it won't mean a thing if the book that follows falls flat. That voice had better be in the novel or no one will care.

I'm supposing.